Mafia Mamma Review – The Drought of Good Catherine Hardwicke Films Continues

Catherine Hardwicke’s career as a director is hard to pin down. Her brilliant first film Thirteen (2003) co-written by Nikki Reed was a blistering investigation into disenfranchised teenagers. Her follow up, Lords of Dogtown (2005) was a biopic of the some of the people who made skateboarding a professional sport (and an investigation of disenfranchised teens). Then came Twilight (2008) her most financially successful film based on the bestselling novel by Stephenie Myer, and somewhere during that film Hardwicke seemed to lose her directorial voice and has been searching for it in multiple genres since.

Mafia Mamma finds Hardwicke turning to the action-comedy genre with limited results. Teaming up again with the always watchable Toni Collette who starred in Hardwicke’s 2015 work Miss You Already, Mafia Mamma mixes an incongruous bunch of ingredients to turn out something that is sadly under cooked.

Kirstin (Toni Collette) is about to be an empty nester. She works as a pitch executive for a pharmaceutical company who are more concerned with marketing their products to men (even if they’re not for men) than they are getting the drugs to people who need them. Her failed musician husband, Paul (Tim Daish) is having an affair and hasn’t shown any interest in Kristin sexually for three years. Kristin is a well of frustration as is evidenced by her Krav Magra sessions that she attends with her best friend. Providence would have it that she is called by Bianca (Monica Bellucci) the consigliere for her grandfather’s Italian Mafia empire telling her that as Don Guiseppe Balbano’s (Alessandro Bressanello) named heir she needs to come to Italy to sort out the family affairs – although Kristin is entirely ignorant of what “family affairs” mean in this context.

Working the classic “fish out of water” trope, Hardwicke and screenwriters Amanda Sthers, J. Michael Feldman, and Debbie Joon attempt a story about buried female rage and empowerment by showing that Kristin brings something to the table in her role as a Mafia Donna. Whether that be by brokering a kind of peace with rival Mafioso family the Romanos (who try to kill her and fail) or turning her grandfather’s vineyard into a legitimate business. Kristin finds herself in Italy in a skewed Under the Tuscan Sun meets The Godfather (both referenced) even having an affair with the younger and very handsome Lorenzo (Giulio Corso) who she tries to keep away from her ‘business’ despite him having an interest in it.

The mix of comedy with some quite extreme violence (eyeballs end up out of their sockets, body parts end up in strange places) is just one part of the tonal discord. Collette is an exceptionally talented comic actor but even so, there are only so many reaction shots of her dealing with the reality of her situation and “You go, girl” moments the film can stretch out. Some of the better comedy comes from her bodyguards Dante (Alfonso Perugini) and Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni) but the element of near slapstick wears thin after a joke has been repeated more than twice.

Thin characterisation of the people around Kristin doesn’t help sell the film. Her best friend Jenny (Sofia Nomvente) is basically written as “spunky best friend,” and her rival for control of the Balbano family, Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta) is set up from the beginning to be a misogynist thorn in her side. Monica Bellucci’s Bianca seems unendingly patient with Kristin and her inexperience and foibles to the point of absurdity – perhaps it is to underpin the women’s empowerment narrative that is running through the work, but narratively it seems nonsensical.

There are times when the comedy in Mafia Mamma does land and it shows the audience that there is potential for the film to appeal to certain audiences, and Collette is bringing quite a lot to Kristin. However, the film doesn’t know how to blend the elements into a seamless whole and that makes for a piece that has some exciting flashes but lacks the ability to weave together something that is interesting and sustainably entertaining.

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Cast: Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Sofia Nomvente

Writers: Amanda Sthers, J. Michael Feldman, Debbie Joon

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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